HAMPDEN, Maine — Sixteen consecutive losses to start a high school football career is enough to prompt some players to consider a different athletic challenge.
But for the 13 seniors on this year’s team at Nokomis Regional High School of Newport, what began with back-to-back 0-8 seasons is concluding in celebration. The Warriors held off Hermon 13-6 at the Weatherbee Complex on Saturday to capture the school’s first Class C North championship.
“I would liked to have dreamed about doing this, but I don’t know if I could ever say I was going to play in a state championship game,” said Andrew Haining, the Warriors’ fourth-year starting quarterback. “This is pretty sweet.”
Indeed, Nokomis (7-4) will conclude its most successful football season since joining the varsity ranks in 2007 at next Saturday’s state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland against South winner Fryeburg Academy.
“The kids bought in right out of the gate, they believed in what we were doing and stuck with it,” said Jake Rogers, whose arrival as Nokomis’ head coach last year coincided with the Warriors being reclassified by enrollment from Class B to Class C.
“For the ones who had been here it was hard for them to understand that things could change, but the ones that stayed believed in this, they wanted us to succeed and now they’re doing it.”
Hermon completed its best season since assuming varsity status in 2011 with a 9-2 record.
“We couldn’t get anything flowing,” said second-year Hermon head coach Kyle Gallant, whose team was hurt by four turnovers. “We’d get a couple of drives going and then something would happen.
“But I’m proud of our kids beyond what you could imagine. I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked, and just because we weren’t on the right end of where we wanted to be today doesn’t mean anything has changed about how I feel about them.”
The Warriors, who lost at Hermon 25-7 on Sept. 14, built a 13-0 lead less than eight minutes into the contest, then turned to its wing-T offense featuring senior fullback David Wilson, who rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Haining added 48 rushing yards and completed two touchdowns for 54 yards and a score as Nokomis finished with a 204-187 advantage in total yards during a contest that began amid light rain and continued through mixed precipitation and increasing winds.
Hermon star Garrett Trask rushed for a game-high 178 yards on 28 carries. But save for a 75-yard second-quarter run that produced Hermon’s lone touchdown, the Nokomis defense kept the two-time All-Big 11 first-team quarterback largely in check.
“We had one guy constantly spying him, making sure he didn’t break free,” said Nokomis linebacker Quinton Richards. “We let him break free once and saw what happened, and then halftime came and coach said we couldn’t let that happen again and we didn’t let it happen again.”
A 56-yard return of the opening kickoff by Chance Graves set Nokomis up for an early score until Hermon’s defense denied Haining on a fourth-and-goal sneak from the 1.
The Warriors got the ball right back when Trask couldn’t handle the center snap two plays later and Richards recovered the fumble at the 2.
Wilson scored on the next play and Cade Kreider’s extra-point kick gave Nokomis a 7-0 lead 4:19 into the contest.
Barely a minute later, Brock Graves — Chance’s cousin — intercepted Trask’s first pass attempt and returned it 21 yards to the Hermon 9.
After Nokomis was whistled for a third-down chop-block penalty that relegated the Warriors back to the 17, Haining lofted a pass over the middle to Chance Graves in the back of the end zone to extend the Warriors lead to 13-0 with 4:46 left in the opening period.
Nokomis did not score again, but the smash-mouth ground game featuring Wilson pounding straight ahead behind linemen Richards, Phenyx Hatch, Andy Hopkins, James Boyd and Nicholas Lincoln and a defense led by Richards and Boyd made that lead stand up.
The only thing missing from the old-school approach on this bad-weather day was the mud of natural grass.
“It was a battle of the trenches,” said Hatch. “But turf is a little nicer than mud, for sure.”
Hermon struggled to move the ball during its first four possessions until Trask finally broke free for the game’s longest play.
Just after teammate Keith Pomeroy batted down a Haining pass intended for Tyler Pelletier to end a Nokomis drive at the Hermon 25, Trask took a first-down snap, raced through a hole at the line of scrimmage and sprinted 75 yards down the sideline to pull the Hawks within 13-6 with 4:54 left until intermission.
Hermon advanced no closer than the Nokomis 34 during the second half, a yard line the Hawks reached twice.
The first incursion ended with a fourth-down interception by Chance Graves late in the third quarter, the second on a fourth-down pass incompletion with 2:40 left in the game.
Moments later, Haining rolled right on third-and-9 behind blocks from Boyd and Hatch for a 10-yard gain and a first down at the Nokomis 45. The Warriors were able to run the clock out and celebrate some school history.
“This means everything to us as a team, to me personally, and I think our fans are loving it, too,” said Hatch. “This was the first time we’d even won a playoff game, so to win a championship is so great.
“And to get to play in a state game means the world to everybody.”